GOP helped pro-pot state auditor candidate raise enough money to get $29,000 subsidy

‘It does look suspicious, I’ll grant you that’ pot candidate says of the Republican infusion of cash

By: - March 30, 2023 6:01 am

This is a flier distributed by pro-pot legalization candidate Tim Davis.

A bevy of less-than-groovy Republicans made a flurry of donations to a pot party candidate last summer. 

The donations came days before a July deadline for Tim Davis of the Legal Marijuana Now Party to raise enough money to get a public subsidy for his state auditor campaign, giving him a cash infusion to potentially pull votes from DFL State Auditor Julie Blaha.  

Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, donated $50 to Davis even though she voted against legalizing medicinal marijuana in 2014, and has opposed legalizing recreational marijuana. She has a 0% rating by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and recently told constituents in an email, “There will be many public health and safety issues if Minnesota legalizes recreational marijuana.”

Campaign finance records show Republicans donated over $1,000 to the Davis campaign in the days leading up to a July 18 deadline for Davis to raise at least $6,000 to get a public subsidy.

The GOP donations helped push him over the threshold and secure a nearly $29,000 public subsidy. 

The subsidy is divided up among the candidates who agreed to abide by campaign spending limits. Had Davis not qualified for the subsidy, Blaha, who struggled to raise money last year, would have gotten an additional $28,000 subsidy. Instead, she received nearly $56,000.

In recent years, Republicans have been colluding with friendly candidates to run on the line of the state’s two marijuana legalization parties — Legal Marijuana Now and Grassroots Legalize Cannabis — in an effort to pull votes from DFL candidates.

The two parties and political analysts have debated whether the pot party candidates were decisive in defeating Democrats in 2020, but the Republican donations in the auditor race indicate at least some GOP operatives thought the strategy could be effective. 

Blaha was narrowly re-elected in November over Republican Ryan Wilson. Blaha beat Wilson by 8,435 votes, while the pot candidate, Davis, pulled in over 87,000 votes.

The donations are newly relevant as the Legislature considers a bill to make it harder for alternative parties to attain “major party” status. Major party status — which the two pot parties attained with strong showings in 2018 — means automatic ballot access. Meaning anyone can sign up to be a candidate for one of those parties, which is what makes them vulnerable to chicanery. But the alternative parties say the proposal amounts to Democrats and Republicans limiting voters’ choices to an unappealing duopoly.

DFL Chair Ken Martin said after numerous instances of manipulation of third parties in 2020, “bad actors,” as he called them, did it again last year.

“It is outrageous that a group of elected officials, candidates, and consultants gamed Minnesota’s public financing system and major party status rules to unjustly funnel taxpayer dollars into their campaigns,” he said. “The ongoing abuse of Minnesota’s third parties by people who don’t think they can win a fair election needs to stop.”

Money used to hire GOP activist

Once Davis raised enough money to get the public windfall, he used most of it to hire a longtime Republican activist to door knock for his campaign, according to his campaign finance report.

He hired Paul Tuschy, aka Liberty Longbeard, a former GOP state House candidate and 2020 campaign adviser to the late Adam Weeks, who was a Legal Marijuana Now candidate in the 2nd District with close ties to Republicans. Tuschy was paid by Republican Tyler Kistner’s congressional campaign while also working for Weeks.

Tuschy’s company, Ground Game LLC, was paid nearly $26,000 for Davis door knocking, according to Davis’s campaign finance report. Davis told the Reformer Tuschy made and distributed fliers for him. The flier blasted Blaha for crashing a car and accused Gov. Tim Walz’s administration of being corrupt.

Blaha said the flier seemed more about trashing the DFL party than highlighting Davis’s stances on issues.

In addition to legalization, his top priorities were alternative energy, population reduction, and the right to die, according to his campaign website

Not the kind of platform you’d expect to garner support from right-wing Republican lawmakers such as Franson of Alexandria and Sen. Nathan Wesenberg, R-Little Falls, and his wife, Jennifer, who donated $100 on the July 18 deadline. 

Wesenberg did not respond to a request for comment.

Asked about her donation, Franson replied by email: “I believe in democracy. Do you?”

Davis also received donations from former state Supreme Court candidate Michelle MacDonald; Rep. Patti Anderson of Dellwood; and Republican activist and Wilson supporter Nathan Hansen.

Davis said most of the money was raised by Paula Overby of Eagan. The longtime advocate for alternative parties ran for Congress in the 2nd District under the banner of the Independence Party in 2016. Democrats say U.S. Rep. Angie Craig was hindered in her first run for Congress by Overby’s strong showing. Overby won nearly 29,000 votes, and Craig lost to Republican former U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis by just 6,655 votes. Craig prevailed over Lewis in 2018 and has been re-elected every year since. 

Last year, however, Democrats feared a repeat when Overby ran as a Legal Marijuana Now candidate before dying in October. She had close ties to a Republican activist in the camp of Republican challenger Tyler Kistner: Tuschy. She posted photos and status updates tagging Tuschy, who had been a past delegate for Kistner.  

Davis said he met Tuschy through Overby.

“She got most of those people to donate,” Davis said. “We were trying to raise enough money to get the public subsidy.”

Asked why so many Republicans donated to his campaign, Davis acknowledged “It does look suspicious, I’ll grant you that.”

He berated the two-party system and the “illusion of choice” in America.

“If people want to give, they’re free to give — whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, the money is the same,” he said.

Asked whether he was concerned that Republicans were using him to blunt Blaha’s campaign, Davis said, “We’re being taken advantage of by Republicans and Democrats.”

“They’re always trying to pull a fast one,” he said. “Both Republicans and Democrats have tried to limit the number of people voting… and who can run in third parties.”

Blaha said the public subsidy is intended to help regular Minnesotans run for office.

“We really need to ensure that this public subsidy is used as intended and that third parties can protect themselves,” she said. “This was really a situation where I believe a third party was manipulated to abuse the public subsidy.”

Blaha said she believes Davis was a true believer in legalization — before running, he was the head of his pro-pot party, after all.

“To take advantage of someone who truly believes in what they’re doing is particularly un-Minnesotan,” she said. “Ultimately this is about good governance. Abusing a system like this violates that public trust, and we need all the trust we can get right now.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified a Davis donor as a legislative aide.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.

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